There’s a lot more to throwing a kids party than carrot sticks and party hats. Ask anyone who’s been there. To help cut through the Disney song confusion, we enlisted the expertise of pre-k music teacher and veteran kids party entertainer Tucker Dale. Here are the Top Pro musician’s five tips for keeping your tots on their toes this event season.
Tip 1: Bring Props and Prizes
For younger kids, any type of instruments, costumes, stickers or prop-based games will be a real crowd pleaser. Tucker recommends bringing a bag of age-appropriate instruments (shakers, tambourines, hand drums, triangles, cow bells) for kids to bang on during the songs. The more they can play along, the more engaged they are and the more fun they have.
And don’t forget the party favors! The goodies should match the theme, says Tucker—and the more basic, the better. Think baseball cards and stickers, things that are simple to get and kids will love.
Tip 2: Control the Energy
As anyone with a toddler knows, little kids’ energy levels are something of a dice roll. Tucker will be the first to admit that, in the chaos of a kid’s birthday party, it’s easy for things to start spiraling out of control. Here’s how he stays ahead of the temper tantrum.
Segue to slower tempo songs when the crowd gets restless. Classic Disney tunes like ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ that kids have heard a million times before work like a lullaby—you can even lead the kids in pretending to fall asleep to help zen them out.
If the kids’ energy starts lagging, Tucker suggests playing a round or two of ‘freeze frame.’ All of the kids stop moving when you stop the music and start dancing again when you turn it back on. It’s also a great way to get everyone refocused.
Tip 3: Something for the Adults in the Crowd
Most kids parties include everyone from newborn babies to grandparents. With that in mind, make an effort to play songs that guests from every generation can sing along to. Variety helps spice things up a bit, says Tucker. But you always have to keep your target audience in mind. Luckily, there’s no shortage of kid-friendly classic songs like ‘Yellow Submarine’ or ‘Here Comes The Sun.’
You might be surprised by the range of artists with songs that are kids party gold. Bob Marley? ‘Three Little Birds.’ Jack Johnson? The whole Curious George Soundtrack. Justin Timberlake? Anything from the movie Trolls.
Tip 4: Keep It Short
Keep your kids music sets short and sweet. According to Tucker, the average kid (age zero to seven) will stay engaged for 45 minutes, an hour at most. So be smart about what your crowd needs. If they’re fidgeting around the 25-minute mark, don’t push those boundaries. Let your set find its natural end.
Another way to do this: make your songs shorter. If the tune you’re playing is three minutes long, cut it down to 90 seconds. When playing a longer song, Tucker keeps a close read on his audience. It’s better to end on a high note, he explains. So keep an eye on your crowd.
Tip 5: Customize Every Set
Pick songs and props that match the party’s theme. As Tucker explains, if the kid loves Justin Bieber, make that the bulk of your set. If they love the movie Frozen, bring stickers of the characters to hand out as you play.
According to Tucker, some parents even ask to have custom songs written for the big day. It’s not the easiest path or the one most travelled, but it really highlights the point: make your set personal and take your audience’s needs to heart. Anyways, you might be surprised—channeling your inner child can be a whole lot of fun.
Tucker’s Definitive Kids Party Soundtrack
Still feeling lost? Here are Tucker’s ten must-have kids party songs to get you started. So mix a CD, pull out your ukulele or better yet–hire a pro to do the serenading for you.
- The Wheels On The Bus
- If You’re Happy & You Know It Clap Your Hands
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight (The Kingsmen)
- Here Comes The Sun/Yellow Submarine/All You Need Is Love (The Beatles)
- 3 Little Birds/One Love (Bob Marley)
- Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World (Israel Uke Version)
- I’ve Been Working On The Railroad
- Down By The Bay/6 Little Ducks/Baby Beluga (Raffi)
- Under A Shady Tree (Laurie Berkner)
- Feeling Good Today/I Am Happy (Snatam Kaur)
If you’re looking to give your party a cinematic edge, try Tucker’s go-to list of crowd-pleasing songs from some of this decade’s most popular kids movie soundtracks.
- Happy by Pharrell Williams (Despicable Me)
- Let It Go (Frozen)
- Upside Down by Jack Johnson (Curious George)
- Can’t Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake (Trolls)
- Everything Is Awesome (Lego Movie)
Is all that child-herding making you hungry? Check out these tips for a very grown-up burger.